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Daytime Running Lights – Should They Be Mandatory?

A lot of modern vehicles are fitted with daytime running lights – a set of little lights that go on automatically every time the engine gets switched on.  This is particularly the case for European vehicles for the very simple reason that the EU requires all cars to have them.  Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland) have had mandatory daytime running lights for quite some time (since the 1970s, in fact), so you can bet your boots that any self-respecting Saab or Volvo is going to have them.

A nice example of daytime running light design from Audi.

A nice example of daytime running light design from Audi.

The purpose behind daytime running lights is simple safety.  The human eye is drawn to glittery, shiny objects – that’s the whole reason why precious stones and very shiny metals are considered so valuable and why luxurious fabrics and paints have a bit of a sheen to them.  This means that if you’ve got the daytime running lights on, it’s easier to see you.  And the stats do bear the basic theory out.  According to the Australian College of Road Safety, daytime running lights are “able to prevent up to 11% of multi-vehicle severe crashes, and up to 12% of pedestrian fatal crashes in Australia.”

Many of the countries that make daytime running lights compulsory are in higher latitudes: the Scandinavian nations mentioned above, plus Canada and now the rest of the European Union.  This is because during wintertime in places that are a bit further from the Equator, days get a lot shorter and the sun doesn’t get as high or as bright.  The question therefore needs to be asked if they would have the same effect if made compulsory in Australia, which is what the Australian College of Road Safety is campaigning for.  After all, we don’t get as much of a difference between winter and summer daylight hours, especially the further north you go.  Even in Tasmania, it doesn’t get anywhere near as drastic as it does in, say, Sweden.  They could consider it across the ditch in New Zealand, but over here?

Some have argued that making daytime running lights compulsory would make carbon emissions worse, as using the lights requires more energy and that energy has to come from somewhere, which is usually the fuel that you put in your car.  The more lights you have on, the more gas you’ll go through.  However, the flip side of that argument is that proper daytime running lights with LED technology use much less energy than conventional headlights put on dip, which is the El Cheapo equivalent of fog lights or daytime running lights.  LED lights tend to look prettier, too, and some designers get quite creative with how they include them in the front end design  (look at the example from Audi above).

Personally, I’m ambivalent about them.  They’re a pretty good idea on dull, grey days or when it’s raining.  They’re also pretty good on quieter streets or out in the country, especially on silvery grey cars that have a tendency to be camouflaged against the tarmac.  However, on main roads, you’ve already got tons of lights flashing and flickering, competing for your attention: indicators, traffic lights, warning lights on maintenance vehicles, advertising, Christmas lights at certain times of year, various other lights on your dashboard, all going “look at me!”  It’s a bit of visual overload, and you run the risk of just tuning it all out, with the end result that all those daytime running lights become part of the landscape, kind of like sunlight reflected off puddles or a well-polished bonnet.

Some researchers have noted that if all cars have daytime running lights on all the time, motorbikes (which also have daytime running lights and have them more often) become less visible.  Motorbikes are a lot more vulnerable than cars when it comes to crashing in the first place, so maybe this isn’t a good thing.

What do other people think?  Should daytime running lights be compulsory in Australia?  Let us know in the comments below.  If you want more info about the Australian College of Road Safety’s campaign, you can read all about it at

Safe and happy driving,